The Restaurant

We’ve been big, big fans of The Restaurant on these pages, so it is with a little bit of sadness that we relay the news that the BBC have decided to axe The Restaurant.

The show ran for three series and looked at couples competing to go into business with ace chef Raymond Blanc.

Just in case you didn’t know.

According to The Guardian, the BBC believes that the format is no longer suitable because of the economic climate. In fairness, nothing quite captured the magic of the first series.

However, it isn’t all bad news for fans of Raymond.

“The Restaurant has proved a popular format with audiences, regularly attracting around two million viewers across its three series,” a BBC spokesperson said. “However, we feel the time is right for The Restaurant to close its doors after three successful series.

“Raymond is an outstanding culinary talent who is very popular with our audience and we are in discussions about a new series of Kitchen Secrets with Raymond as well as talking to him about a number of other projects.”

I think he’ll be alright for munnay don’t you?

The latest series of The Restaurant (BBC Two) failed to capture my affections like previous years, solely because I had other stuff to review. It’s a shame because, once again, it looked like a real humdinger.

While it’s fair to say that food shows have been driving me to Prozac in 2009, The Restaurant could never make me angry. That’s because it’s got something that the rest of foodieville has… and that’s class.

In Raymond Blanc, the show has someone so impossibly likeable that I often wonder if someone grew him in a petri-dish as a PR exercise between England and France. He says all the right things and have a lovely Gallic drawl that makes everything sound cooler than anything my monkeyish Northern tongue could muster. He says “munnay”, I say “munnie”. Blanc wins every time.

And so, to last night’s finale.

Raymond got his young charges and set them off on task so dizzyingly impossible that during viewing, my stomach tied itself into a knot and got indigestion both sides of the crease. It was horrific… but tantalising viewing.

The contestants were asked for absolute perfection. Now, this doesn’t merely mean Making Ace Food And Getting Out On Time Without A Hitch In The Kitch, but rather, mystifying requests at the behest of Raymond’s right hand man, David (officially the scariest human I’ve ever encountered).

Only serve food with your left hand… make sure the chairs don’t touch the table cloth… ensure that the cutlery is spaced just-so

It was here that the contest was won and lost. Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that Chris was the better cook, it was his buddy Nathan that lost them the gig. So surly and cold was he that it’s a wonder no-one has lamped him in the chops thus far.

While JJ and James reminded of a pair of Bertie Woosters on a boating holiday, which of course, makes them bleed upper-crust charm when you cut them, our Nathan looked like a skulking toddler who had been told to tuck his shirt in.

David Moore got his shark eyes on when Nathan tripped over protocol and glided over to him to deliver “go upstairs” in a voice that only a murderer could find appealing.

The final banquet threw the whole thing up in the air with JJ and James ballsing up their food and Chris and Nathan playing push-me, pull me between the kitchen and table. Sarah Willingham, ever lovely and forthright, delivered the brutal honesty but in a way only she can. Basically, that’s honesty with a big dollop of heart.

So who won? Well, by the time they were ready to announce, I felt like my head was in a vice. I wanted JJ and James to win, based solely on the fact that I hated Nathan with such a passion that I was prepared to go on a hunger-strike until someone taught him some manners. And win they did because, in short, it doesn’t matter how good your food is… because serving it with sour grapes will always spoil the occasion.

Like all good series of The Restaurant, this decision will polarise opinion…

World-renowned chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc returns to BBC Two on Thursday 29 October at 8.00pm in his third series of The Restaurant, with nine couples hungry for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open a restaurant with him.

From their first meeting with the Michelin-starred maestro the nine couples are in at the deep end facing a series of increasingly tough challenges. All are designed to test the creativity and practical skills they need to display before they get the keys to their own restaurants. Get it wrong and the doors are closed.

Tough times on the high street mean Raymond Blanc is not in the market for dreamers – and the pressure is on to show him they have what it takes to survive.

“The industry is under tremendous difficulty,” says Raymond. “Every day restaurants are closing down. I must tell you that the customer has become demanding, picky… he wants the best value for money and expects great things. So the pressure is on us all. We must aim higher. We must do better.”

Throughout this series Raymond Blanc is a regular presence in the couples’ restaurants – scrutinising their relationships, business ideas and cooking skills. No disasters or triumphs go unnoticed as the couples fight to keep their restaurants open.

Upping the pressure are Raymond’s eagle-eyed industry experts: Sarah Willingham and David Moore who, as investors in this year’s prize, are looking for a strong brand concept and service excellence.

The filming of the series takes place in Bristol in the competitive market of a typical UK high street, with couples eager to prove they can cut the mustard in this culinary minefield.

Executive producer Chloe Solomon says: “The ability to grow is what Raymond is looking for. He is driven by an incredible work ethic and is inspirational – in part because he knows a dream is not enough – success depends on sound business sense and hard work, as much as creativity.

“Having nurtured more Michelin-starred chefs and front of house managers than any other chef it is an undeniable privilege for our couples to learn from one of the best.”

I tend to find that recap programmes are a bit lazy. However, The Restaurant: The Winners’ Story (BBC Two, Monday, 7 September, 9pm) only served to underline how great the show was in which it celebrated.

The Restaurant is one of the finest things aired on the box in the past couple of years. It’s a real televisual joy, with Raymond Blanc at the head of the show, saying things a bit funny in his Gallic drawl (“munnay”) and showcasing food so fine that it makes you dissolve in your own juices.

However, the show is backed by contestants really going through the mill… but with a prize so good at the close, you completely understand why they put themselves through it all.

The first series saw the nation howling with disappointment as the couple that won were pretty much unloveable, as exemplified by Jeremy pointing at his wife’s pregnant guts and saying “she’s got something growing inside her” like she was harbouring a parasite worm. Not long after the close of the show, I think they jacked the whole food game in.

Thankfully, the winners of series two, Russell and Michele and their Cheerful Soul eaterie were the real deal and we caught up with them and the launch of their restaurant.

With each stab of orchestrated music, familiar from series past, the viewer (ie, Me) was reminded just how thrilling and classy the show itself was… and will be when it returns to our screens. We saw the perils and pitfalls from the second series and each bold, brave step made by our eventual winners. It had me hopping around like I’d gone nuts to relive it all.

This new show only served to confirm my thoughts about Raymond too… and that is his undying love for food. As opposed to leaving The Cheerful Souls to it, with a budget and some guidelines, he was clearly there, hands-on and fizzing with ideas and pride.

It was wonderful to see in an age when pretty much all celebrity chefs spend most of their time turning the air blue and stroking their own plums. Raymond is passionate yet still human. He should be applauded for that alone.

This programme clearly appeared in our listings as a taster for a new series and, as previously noted on these very pages, there’s a couple more spin-offs to come (here) to really get us in the mood.

It was great to see our most recent winners opening up a new place and just how much this show can actually change someones life. The third series, providing it doesn’t tinker with the format too much, will be yet another highlight in the scheduling and should be one of the best shows of the year.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Did you watch the wonderful BBC Two show, The Restaurant? If you missed both series, you’ve missed a real treat.

The show combined the thrill of the pitch a la Dragons Den, yet managed to eschew all that bravado and guff and provide something thoroughly enjoyable to watch and immerse in. Raymond Blanc headed up a great team who gave Joe Public the chance to win a prize that was, well, staggering.

Instead of waving cheerily to the winners as they glided off into the sunset, Raymond offered them the chance to work with him. Basically, winner gets to go into business with one of the most famous chefs in the world.

Such is the success of the show is that BBC bods have decided to branch out and do some spin-off programmes on the back of it… both looking rather good! The shows are provisionally titled Raymond Blanc: Step By Step and Plate Expectations.

‘Step By Step’ will allow us the opportunity to see Raymond at the stove in a tradition cookery show format. However, Raymond is an amazing cook, so I imagine the food on offer will be scandalously good to the point where your eyes will develop teeth and attempt to eat your TV screen.

‘Plate Expectations’ will follow series two runners-up, Alasdair and James, as they go it alone as event caterers. In the show, this pair were incredible and baffling. One of their menus included ‘scaloops’ and one of them had a bloody heart attack halfway through filming.

They have since been taken under Raymond’s wing, learning the trade at one of his top restaurants. Now it’s time to see whether they can tell their caviar from their calamari as they cater for a different event each week.

Should be fun all round!

BBC Two’s factual entertainment offering is expanding, with the commission of two new spin-off shows from The Restaurant – Raymond Blanc; Step By Step and Plate Expectations (working titles).

Raymond Blanc; Step By Step will dish up an accompaniment to The Restaurant for the channel in the form of a cookery series from the show’s star and world-renowned chef Raymond Blanc.

Plate Expectations will follow series two runners-up, Alasdair and James, as they go it alone as event caterers.

Always minutes away from disaster in the show, they have since been taken under Raymond’s wing, learning the trade at one of his top restaurants. Now it’s time to see whether they can tell their caviar from their calamari as they cater for a different event each week.

Janice Hadlow, Controller of BBC Two, says: “The Restaurant is a popular, well-established programme with lots of potential for expansion and I think these two new series will complement and enhance the brand.”

Both shows were commissioned by Mirella Breda, Executive Editor for Entertainment Commissioning, and will be produced by BBC Vision Productions. The executive producers are Chloe Solomon (Raymond Blanc; Step By Step and The Restaurant) and Rachel Arnold (Plate Expectations).

Royal Marine cook Jeremy Hooper (33) and his wife Jane (29), a trainee teacher from Devon, have won BBC Two’s The Restaurant.

The couple seen winning in tonight’s programme will join forces with Raymond Blanc to open a new restaurant in Thame close to Raymond’s renowned Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons.

Says Jane: “We have won the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s what we’ve always dreamed of doing but we never imagined our dreams would become reality so soon, or with such an amazing mentor.

“We couldn’t wish for a more well-respected, knowledgeable, and experienced mentor than Raymond. We know that we still have a lot to learn and that it’s going to be very hard work, but we know we’ve got a great teacher and we are ready for our next challenge!”

Adds Jeremy: “We worked very hard and took the competition very seriously, and to win was an amazing achievement for us. We intend to focus and be 100% driven on making our partnership with Raymond a successful one.”

Over eight weeks viewers have seen the couple battle it out with the other contestants for the unique opportunity to go into business with legendary chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc.

Says Raymond: “Jeremy and Jane have a passion. Jeremy’s background means that he can cook, but as restaurateurs consistently they have to be able to run front of house and make money. Over the weeks they have become a driven team who are able to pass on their knowledge to their staff.”

Adds Raymond: “I have been enormously impressed by how much effort all the couples have put in to the competition – their determination to make it work has been obvious.”

Nine couples started out in the competition and to test their skills they had to run their own restaurants for the very first time.

In the final, to help him make the ultimate and difficult decision, Raymond told the finalists Jeremy and Jane, and Laura and Jess to take their restaurants to his home town of Besançon in France – the place where he grew up and started his own career.

The two couples were shocked to learn that they had less than 48 hours to reopen their own restaurant there for one night and introduce the French to their British cuisine.

This proved to be the toughest of all the challenges the couples have been given during the series, and there were plenty of tears and tantrums as the kitchen and front of house struggled to cope with the packed restaurants, pleasing Raymond’s family and, most importantly, impressing the woman who taught him to cook … his mother Anne Marie.

Award-winning top chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc will be putting nine couples through their paces to see if they have what it takes to run their own restaurant with a variety of challenging tasks in BBC Two’s The Restaurant, starting Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 August 2007 at 8pm.

The nine pairs are competing for the incredible prize of a business with Raymond Blanc. The winners will open a brand new restaurant, financially backed and personally supported by the legendary chef.

To test their skills, all the couples will have to open and run their own restaurants for the very first time under the watchful eye of industry experts and Raymond’s “inspectors” Lee Cash, Sarah Willingham and John Lederer.

Each week one will have the doors of their restaurant closed for good.

The contestants

Martin (28) and Emma (27) are engaged and live in Bolton. Martin is a straight talking prison chef with 11 years experience in the catering trade. His job currently involves catering for 800 inmates. “Who wouldn’t want to run their own restaurant? It’s something I really want to do – it is one of my lifetime goals to achieve and I am sure I am capable of it.” Emma works in a bingo hall and is used to working within a tight budget but still manages to keep the regulars happy.

Jeremy (32) and Jane (29) live in Devon. Jeremy was a Corporal in the Royal Marines and has recently returned from Afghanistan after a tour of duty. Two years ago Jeremy re-trained as a chef with a view to gaining enough experience to set up his own restaurant when he left the Marines. His wife Jane has previously worked in the restaurant business front of house and says: “My experience in restaurants and my Prince’s Trust work have all been invaluable – they got me where I am today.”

Lloyd (28) and Adwoa (27) are engaged and live in London. Lloyd and Adwoa set up their own Ghanaian catering company three years ago and just wish they’d started it earlier in life. They decided to go into business together and tested the water by opening a stall at a London market. When it proved successful, they set up the catering business. At events, Lloyd works front of house and Adwoa cooks the food. Says Adwoa: “As we have already worked together in a business, we feel we can guarantee a harmonious working relationship.”

Sam (27) is a talented jazz player originally from Swansea with a flair for classic cuisine. His American wife Jacqui (22) is an actress who in down time often works as a waitress. Says Sam: “We know we have the drive and the energy to make anything happen. We are more than willing to take risks since we’ve got nothing to lose.”

Ed (24) and his older brother Mike (30), a communications manager, come from a large extended family sharing a British and Polish cultural background. Ed works in the hospitality industry front of house and Mike works in the City but food is his passion. Says Mike: “I’ve got an all consuming passion for food – it’s something I have been working towards for the last five years.”

Scottish advertising copywriter Grant (31) and his wife Laura (27), from Deptford, are excited at the prospect of owning their own venture. Grant grew up in the trade as his mother owned a successful restaurant. Laura is a communications officer and has always dreamed of becoming a professional wine buyer. Says Grant: “I want to move on and make a better life for my family and enjoy what I do every single day.”

Twin sisters Jess and Laura (28) from London work together as entertainers for children’s parties. They currently have their own party company, but they are both keen cooks and love throwing dinner parties. Says Jess: “Our concept is a very earthy natural kind of place, comfortable with very good quality food but with a real home-grown organic feel.”

Nicola (42) from Norfolk is a keen cook and entrepreneur running the family company selling seed to the trade. She has joined forces with her son Tom (23) having spent years discussing their plan to open a restaurant. Tom works in hotel management. Nicola is confident that her years of preparing all the family meals from scratch and growing large amounts of produce in her garden will stand her in good stead in the kitchen. Says Nicola: “I have an eye for detail with a drive for perfection at all times.”

And finally, Chris (29) and his partner Jade (26) from Edinburgh are both at university studying Hospitality Management but with extensive experience in the hospitality trade. Chris has been a chef at various restaurants and Jade has been in management for a few years in the bar and restaurant industry. Says Jade: “I was brought up to believe in myself and have an open mind … my motto is ‘Love Many, Trust Few, Always Paddle Your Own Canoe’.”

For one of the couples this programme will realise their dream.

Says Raymond Blanc: “It is a life-changing decision to take part in this programme – it is not just a game. They are making many sacrifices without even knowing if they are going to win.”

Award-winning top chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc puts nine couples through their paces to see if they have what it takes to run their own restaurant in a brand new television event for BBC Two.

Incredibly, more than 1,000 new restaurants open every year in Britain; unfortunately, approximately 50 per cent close within two years.

The Restaurant features couples, some of whom have little or no experience other than cooking at home and throwing dinner parties, but whose dream is to run their own eatery.

They have to create their perfect restaurant and then open the doors to the paying public. Their first crucial decision – who will take on the kitchen and who is best equipped to run the front of house?

It’s a dream that many couples have entertained. Secretly perhaps we all think we could run a restaurant.

It’s so simple. Lots of us can cook. We have all been to restaurants. We all think we know what people like to eat. If only we had the money and the opportunity.

For one couple this programme will realise that dream.

Says Raymond: “It is a life changing decision to take part in this programme – it is not just a game. They are making many sacrifices without even knowing if they are going to win.”

During the eight-week series every decision, every mistake the couples make, every argument they have, will be caught on camera. They are working and living together 24-hours a day, under enormous pressure.

Each of the nine couples takes over an empty restaurant, makes it their own and will open their doors to the paying public.

Every week each restaurant is visited by Raymond’s panel of “inspectors” – restaurant industry experts Lee Cash, Sarah Willingham and John Lederer.

Raymond will then select the three restaurants he judges to be the worst performing. One of these restaurants will be closed at the end of the week.

The three selected restaurants are given a tough specific challenge. They must prove in this challenge that they are good enough to stay open.

Each week, one of the restaurants will be eliminated from the competition by Raymond, acting as judge and advised by his panel. The restaurant that fails the challenge will have its doors shut. Raymond’s decision is the one that counts.

By the end of the series just one couple and one restaurant will be left open. The winning couple will be able to run their own restaurant financially backed and personally supported by Raymond Blanc. Raymond is investing a six figure sum in the new business.

The show is a brutal insight into the business of running a restaurant and the incredible pressure of living and working with your partner.

Competing for the top prize are Martin, a prison caterer and his fiancé Emma who works in a bingo hall; Jeremy, a chef in the Royal Marines and his wife Jane; Lloyd and Adwoa, an engaged couple who run market stalls selling food; jazz drummer Sam and his wife Jacqui, an actress/waitress; Eddie and his older brother Michael, a communications consultant; advertising copywriter Grant and his wife Laura; sisters and children’s entertainers Jess and Laura; Nicola, a home cook and successful businesswoman, and her son Tom; and mature university students Chris and his partner Jade.

Says Raymond: “Opening a restaurant is one of the most popular start up businesses, everyone thinks they can do it. Likewise, our couples also think they know how to run a restaurant business, but most of them will soon realise how complex and tough it is.

“These inexperienced couples will be thrown in at the deep end as they go into an empty restaurant and in one week must open to the public; so they will have to learn fast.”

The series is an uncompromising, but entertaining, insight into the business of restaurant management, bringing with it the incredible pressure of living and working with a partner, learning how to cook, managing staff and a reminder that the customer is always right.

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